Working from home (WFH) is here to stay. Hence, work-related back pain is on the rise too. Because you are not in the office anymore and have picked up these desk bad habits that give you back pain.
Naturally, the office space was set up to follow the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. As such, you had HR, H&S, and occupational health telling you how best to sit and work from your office workstation.
But now things have changed.
Hence, you are left to navigate working from home with little or no corporate support. Am I right?
Indeed, the joy of working from home is you can work from anywhere, sit anyhow, and for however long. But in reality, those afforded freedoms can easily lead to working from home bad habits that cause musculoskeletal injuries.
One of the most common musculoskeletal injuries you can get is back pain.
To be honest, it’s too easy to get back pain if you’re not mindful of these desk bad habits when you sit at your workstation.
So tell me, have you been having back pain and discomfort? Are you worried you don’t know how to address it? Here are the 5 desk bad habits that easily give you back pain and just to spice it up, I have included the solution too.
I bet you know what it is. It’s when you lean forward and stick your neck out when working from your computer. It’s one of the most common bad postures you adopt when you get tired. As a result, your spine adopts a C-curve posture which increases the pressure on the intervertebral discs and facet joints of your spine. Subsequently, this excessive or continuous pressure on your spine could lead to back pain.
What to do Instead
Sit back in your chair
How you sit is very important to reduce injury. The best position to adopt when working from a computer is to sit right back in your chair and support your back with the backrest. If you are struggling to sit in your chair, probably because your seat is too deep, or your backrest is uncomfortable. It’s best you make adjustments and be comfortable or get a new ergonomic office chair that fits like a glove.
2. When you sit on the edge of your chair
I do it too sometimes. You know, when you sit on the edge of your chair. I think I do it to be closer to the screen.
Are you the same?
There are 3 reasons why you might be sitting on the edge of your chair:
- The backrest is uncomfortable
- The seat is too deep which keeps your arms further from the keyboard.
- Simply, it has become a desk bad habit. You just sit on your chair. Not paying attention to the posture you adopt. As such, you remain there for a prolonged period.
Cumulatively, any of these reasons would fatigue your back muscles quickly.
Initially, when you sat on the edge of the chair, you probably maintained an upright posture. That is, your back was straight and it was fine. You had no pain at all.
However, this posture wasn’t sustainable. With time, your back muscles got tired. And as they got tired, you started fidgeting and feeling discomfort.
Like with every living organism, your back needs a break. It needs you to change your sitting position. To lean back into the backrest of your chair. Maybe, get up for a few minutes. Or even walk around and stretch.
But if that is ignored, if you don’t take a break, your fatigued back becomes painful and eventually would lead to back pain.
What To Do Instead
a. Find out why you like to sit on the edge of your chair
Is it because the seat pan is too deep? Or the backrest is uncomfortable? If they are, can you make adjustments? Do the levers on the chair, do more than just increase the height of the chair? If you can’t make adjustments, then you have to seriously start thinking of investing or replacing your chair.
b. Can you see and read from the screen when you sit back in your chair?
If you can’t, is it your eyesight? Do you need glasses? Or is it the lighting in the room? Is the room too dark or cast shadows? Probably it’s the contrast and brightness of your monitor. Check out how to adjust it properly here.
c. Maybe, it’s only a desk bad habit you have picked up sitting at a desk.
Then, you need to change the habit. Simply sit back every time you see yourself sitting on the edge. Do it for a while and it would soon become your new good habit.
3. Sitting With Your Legs Crossed
Ahhh! It’s cozy, isn’t it?
To sit with your legs crossed. Especially on those cold winter days. So, you cross your legs and tuck your feet under your thighs or even under your buttocks (if you’re that flexible).
But doing that hikes your pelvis upwards, which causes your back to take on the C-Curve posture, as mentioned earlier. And a C-Curve spine loads excessive pressure on the spine, giving you back pain. This is an innocuous desk bad habit.
Hold on. Before I proceed, let me clarify this.
Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with crossing your legs. It’s relaxing. You get that ‘zen’ feeling especially if you are chilling, meditating, or praying.
Secondly, crossing your leg is an exercise in itself. It allows you to open up your hips and stretch out those pelvic joints, stretch out the gluteal, hip flexors, and hamstrings, and stabilise the sacroiliac joint. In sum, it’s a good thing.
That being said, these activities are carried out for short periods. At any rate, 30 minutes at most, if you’re a die-hard.
But sitting like that for a considerable amount of time will skew you off the neutral position. By the way, the neutral position is the right posture you should adopt when working.
Numerous researches have shown that sitting cross-legged would not only give you back pain but knee pain, reduce blood flow to the lower legs, pinch your nerves (pins and needles sensation), and reduce temperature.
What To Do Instead
- When you get the urge to cross your legs, resist. It’s become a desk bad habit that needs to be curbed. Sometimes, reminding yourself why you need to sit properly helps.
- Sit with your feet on the ground or on a footrest. Remember, you don’t want to pinch your blood vessels and nerve. Putting your feet on the ground prevents that from happening. And if your leg can’t reach the floor, use a footrest.
4. Prolonged Sitting
This is a very common desk bad habit. It has been proven that prolonged sitting causes a lot of ill health including back pain. A study published in PM&R Journal by G.G. Billy et al (2014): Lumbar Disc Changes Associated with Prolonged Sitting, stated that static seating position has been shown to lead to an increase in intra-discal pressure, and the increased pressures shown leads to disc bulges, protrusions and potentially herniations (disc prolapse).
Over the years, I have seen in my practice more sedentary workers coming in for back surgeries than blue-collar workers. And the difference between these two sets of workers is prolonged sitting. The latter is more active, on their feet, they are moving their backs and legs and maintaining flexibility.
What to do Instead
a. You Must Take Regular Breaks
You need to get up from your chair from time to time. Imagine the build-up of pressure in your spine the longer you sit. Getting up even for a few minutes alleviates that pressure. You can get up to use the toilet, make a cuppa, stroke the dog (or cat), walk to the door, or go to the next floor e.g., upstairs. In fact, running up and down the stairs is good exercise for both your back and legs.
Considering, that it’s so easy to sit for hours, you have to make a conscious effort to remind yourself to get up. My trick is to drink lots of water (forces me to use the toilet more frequently). I have to get up and go.
Another way is to set a timer on your phone or desk clock (if you have any). Use the most annoying screeching music, and place it furthest away from your desk so you don’t have a choice but to get up and switch it off.
b. You Must Change Positions Frequently
You are working from home now. You are not tied to your desk workstation. I like to spice it up when I’m reviewing a report or not typing to work from my sofa.
Yes, you heard me!
I lean back into the backrest, put my feet on the footstool, place a cushion on my lap, and behind my head, of course, with my headphones on and enjoy. Haaa! So relaxing. I can literally feel the pressure in my spine ebbing away. My back feels better as I’m not sitting upright.
You don’t always have to sit upright. In fact, your spine is better for it when it’s at a sitting angle between 100-120 degrees.
Another way is to stand and work. There are various affordable sit-stand desks that you can quickly shift from sitting to standing. If you don’t possess one, you can work from your ironing board. You can adjust it to your preferred height.
You work from home now, it has its own benefits too. So, maximise it.
5. Working From a Laptop
I work from a laptop too. It’s great. Portable and easy to boot up. However, working from a laptop makes you slouch. You do that to be able to see the screen. But difficult to sit upright when working from a laptop.
At the start of the pandemic and lockdowns, home working was thrust upon us. We had to make do with what we had. Make-shift desks. Work from the dining table or the bed. Some even worked on their stairwell.
Well, now if you’re still working from home then it must be a more permanent arrangement. Or at least hybrid working. You can’t keep making do with the makeshift workstation.
What to do Instead
a. Work From Your Laptop in Short Bouts
Even if you still insist on working from a laptop do it in short bouts. Work for an hour from the sofa as I described earlier. Then do sit at your desk workstation for another few hours. Stand up to take a call or meeting. You can do that now that you are working from home. All these various activities, allow you to adopt different working postures and reduce working from home bad habits.
b. Invest in a monitor
The fact is, it’s impossible to use the screen of your laptop at eye level. You would have to compromise, either by raising the keyboard or lowering your neck to see the screen. If you raise the keyboard, you would leave your wrist hanging from the edge causing damage to your wrist. For example, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as I had at first when I started working from home.
In all honesty, your best bet is to get a separate monitor and mouse. You can still use the keyboard of your laptop. But a monitor allows you to be upright with your head facing forward and not bent.
c. Get a docking station
Still, on the topic, add a docking port to your workstation setup, and voila! work becomes seamless from laptop to desktop. No more trying to find where you are on that document. Or saving it twice to update the newer version.
A docking station improves productivity and the best review I have seen on Amazon is the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro w/2.6ft Thunderbolt 3 Cable. It’s fast at 40Gbps transfer speed, it supports dual-screen and the beauty of it all is, it works both with MacBooks and Windows computers. How cool is that!
It’s Simple to Avoid These Desk Bad Habits
In summary, maintaining an upright sitting position and eliminating the C-curve is a recipe for a healthier spine. Learning to work without these desk bad habits reduces your risk of musculoskeletal injury.
If you’ve ever had back pain, you know how debilitating back pain can be. It affects every area of your life from having a good night’s sleep to cooking, walking, working, and playing with your kids.
And sadly, it’s the only one you have. You have no spare. Take good care of it and it would take care of you.